Monday, March 28, 2016

How the G.O.P. Elite Lost Its Voters to Donald Trump

By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, NYT
MARCH 28, 2016

The manufacturing executives had gathered in an Atlanta conference room last year to honor their senior United States senator, Johnny Isakson, for his tireless efforts on their behalf in Washington. But as the luncheon wound down, Mr. Isakson found himself facing a man from Coweta County. The man, Burl Finkelstein, said trade policies with Mexico and China were strangling the family-owned kitchen-parts company he helped manage, and imperiling the jobs it provided. Mr. Isakson politely brushed him off, Mr. Finkelstein recalled, as he had many times before.

So when the Georgia primary rolled around this month, Mr. Finkelstein, along with many others in his town, pulled the lever for Donald J. Trump, who made him feel that someone had finally started listening. “He gets it,” Mr. Finkelstein said in a recent interview. “We’ve sold ourselves out.”

As the Republican Party collapses on itself, conservative leaders struggling to explain Mr. Trump’s appeal have largely seized on his unique qualities as a candidate: his larger-than-life persona, his ability to dominate the airwaves, his tough-sounding if unrealistic policy proposals. Others ascribe Mr. Trump’s rise to the xenophobia and racism of Americans angry over their declining power.

But the story is also one of a party elite that abandoned its most faithful voters, blue-collar white Americans, who faced economic pain and uncertainty over the past decade as the party’s donors, lawmakers and lobbyists prospered. From mobile home parks in Florida and factory towns in Michigan, to Virginia’s coal country, where as many as one in five adults live on Social Security disability payments, disenchanted Republican voters lost faith in the agenda of their party’s leaders.

In dozens of interviews, Republican lawmakers, donors, activists and others described — some with resignation, some with anger — a party that paved the way for a Trump-like figure to steal its base, as it lost touch with less affluent voters and misunderstood their growing anguish.

“This is absolutely a crisis for the party elite — and beyond the party elite, for elected officials, and for the way people have been raised as Republicans in the power structure for a generation,” said Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary for President George W. Bush. “If Donald Trump wins, he will change what it means to be a Republican.”

(More here.)

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